As a software engineer, the best way to answer “What is your favorite programming language and why” is, to be honest, personal, and relate it to the needs of the business. There are more than 700 programming languages so there is no right or wrong answer when discussing your favorite.
The benefit of talking about your favorite coding language is that it is entirely personal. As long as you can explain and justify your reasoning then the answer can’t go against you. Unlike interview questions that ask where you see yourself in a few years or why you are interested in software engineering, discussing your preferred language is less likely to reflect badly.
The answer to this question isn’t likely to set you apart from fellow candidates in any meaningful way, but it gives the interviewer an insight into your personality. Much like discussing your strengths and weaknesses, talking about your favorite programming language allows the employer to gauge what you are like.
Let’s explore the best ways to answer “What is your favorite programming language” as a software engineer. We’ll look at the reasons why companies ask the question, then explore some tips and examples for nailing the question if it comes up.
Why do companies ask “What is your favorite programming language” in an interview?
Companies ask about your favorite coding language because they want to know:
- If you understand the differences between programming languages
- Whether you take time selecting the tools you work with
- How well do you know certain languages
- If you know the tradeoffs between some languages
- Whether you are thoughtful in your development process
- How many languages do you know
Your answer doesn’t have to touch on all the points above but it needs to tackle at least a few of them.
The interviewer wants to understand what your current breadth of knowledge is and how you choose the tools you work with. Some people are incredibly steadfast in the language they work with and don’t want to work with anything else. If your potential employer is using a different tech stack they want to know if you’ll be happy to transition over and learn.
It’s also a chance for them to check your understanding of a specific language and take a glimpse into your thought process. The language you decide to speak about isn’t as important as your reasoning and justification. Whether it’s because one is strongly typed, feature-rich, or lends itself well to imperative programming, the interviewer will want to see if you can evaluate languages based on their merits.
If you don’t have a favorite or only know one language, you don’t need to make it up. But speak about why you like the current language and your intentions to learn others. Keeping an ear to the ground in terms of industry changes and new languages on the blocks shows companies you are interested in the industry.
Tips on answering “What is your favorite coding language and why?”
As a software developer, the best tips for answering, what is your favorite programming language, include:
- Be personal
- Don’t be afraid to get technical
- Be business relevant
- Justify your choices
- Be genuine
- Appear open-minded
Use this question as an opportunity to show off your technical knowledge and give the interviewer a sense of your decision-making processes. You want to show you weigh up languages and tools based on business needs, are open-minded, and are open to change.
Don’t come across as stuck in the mud or set in your ways as many businesses use different technical stacks so you’ll always need to learn something new.
It is important to select a favorite language based on your personal experience, rather than just the flavor of the month. You’ll need to show some in-depth knowledge of the language and it would help your case if you can back it up with real-life examples. Mention previous jobs where you have used the language or how it has helped in your projects.
If you don’t have a favorite coding language, avoid just listing off popular languages to fill the space. Instead, discuss how you aren’t married to a single solution or approach.
Don’t be afraid to get technical
Your potential employer uses this question to get an idea of how you think. Be prepared to give details and justify why it’s your language of choice. Dive in and get technical, highlight specific elements of syntax you love and the solutions you have built with it.
Let your technical expertise shine through and use it as a way to show off your previous experience in the language. Discuss specific elements of the language, it doesn’t matter whether it’s statically or dynamically typed, but it’s worth bringing it up.
Be business relevant
Whatever language you decide to talk about, I’d always recommend rounding it off with a small mention of business relevance. Despite what people say, the best language is the one that is right for the task at hand. Business needs should guide the technology stack, not the opposite way around.
If all the developers already know PHP it doesn’t make sense to train everyone in C# for the sake of it. Mentioning the needs of the business is bound to score some brownie points and show you consider other stakeholders in the business.
Justify your choices
The programming language you choose isn’t as important as the rationale behind it. The choice is an entirely subjective one so there isn’t an incorrect answer. But the more you can justify your decision, and elaborate on the reasons why the better chance you stand.
If you can eloquently explain your answer it gives the interviewer a better idea of what type of developer you will be.
Coming across as sincere in an interview is a big plus. Employers want someone they can trust and rely on. Remember there isn’t a ‘right’ answer to what your favorite coding language is, so don’t just say what you think they want to hear.
It doesn’t have to be the language the company is using at the moment. Discussing a range of languages you like shows that you enjoy learning and are adaptable, two big strengths. Although, I would recommend reframing from slamming the current language they use.
The life of a software engineer involves constant learning. Things change quickly in the tech world and new solutions pop up all the time. You’ll have to be open to new suggestions and approaches all the time.
When discussing the languages you like, don’t cement your position so much that you appear close-minded or inflexible.
Example answers for the question “What is your favorite programming language and why?”
Remember that companies ask you this question to gain insight into your decision-making process, and to understand your technical understanding. I’d recommend structuring the answer like this:
- State the language you like
- Describe the language and why you like
- Mention your experience with it and other information
- Discuss how you are open to any language and the right language is the one that solves the problem the best.
Let’s take a look at some sample answers for different programming languages.
“My favorite programming language is Python because it’s quick and easy to set up, and means I can get coding right away. It’s dynamically typed and has automatic memory management which means I can focus on development without having to worry about memory allocation and syntax issues.
I’ve used Python in a variety of personal projects and have written about it extensively. The simple syntax means people with less technical experience can still understand it. In the past, I have created X and Y with Python and found it to be a good fit. However, I know X currently uses C# and not Python. I have a passion for learning and can’t wait to solve some pressing business problems in a statically typed language which has a great track record.”
“I love Java. The fact it isn’t tied to one particular platform means I can make apps that work on multiple devices. It has a simple syntax that meant I could get coding right away and the static nature of Java also made it a lot easier for me to pick up C++. We use Java extensively in my current role and it is something I first picked up at university.
The secure nature of the language means it’s been used in most of the big companies I have worked at. However, I know that it can have performance issues when compared to C, and am a big believer in choosing the right tool for the job.”
Nathan Britten, the founder and editor of Developer Pitstop, is a self-taught software engineer with nearly five years of experience in front-end technologies. Nathan created the site to provide simple, straightforward knowledge to those interested in technology, helping them navigate the industry and better understand their day-to-day roles.